Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hotel reservations

As I alluded to on Tuesday, the regional council's report on the Queens Wharf Hilton proposal recommends that the application be declined. Yesterday's Capital Times article states that "Greater Wellington believes building a hotel on the site" would contravene various acts and plans. Actually, that's not quite what the decision says: there are many specific and quite significant aspects of the present proposal that make it inconsistent with those acts and plans, but Greater Wellington has no objection to a hotel per se, and if certain modifications were made the decision could be reconsidered.

I don't blame the reporter for not reading the full report (1.6MB PDF), since it's 262 pages long! However, most of that consists of technical appendices and submissions, and it's quite clear in the conclusion of the main report that the hotel itself is not being rejected. On page 64, it says:
There are a number of specific fundamental aspects of this particular hotel proposal that causes the proposal, as submitted, to be inconsistent with the relevant planning documents and inconsistent with Part II of the RMA.

This is not to say that there is any inherent problem with a hotel development on the existing Shed 1 site on the Outer T of Queens Wharf [my emphasis]; however, there are some challenges due to the location that need to be satisfactorily addressed. At this stage, based on the information provided to date, I am not satisfied that the application does this.

On this basis, I consider that this application should be declined unless the outstanding matters summarised in section 13.3 of this report and repeated below can be adequately addressed by the applicant.
What are these outstanding matters? Here's a summary:

Rendering of proposed Queens Wharf Hilton, with areas of concern from the regional council report
And here are the details (from page 44).

A. The need to reconsider the design for the wharf area between the tunnel exit and the hotel entrance, in order to provide for pedestrian priority.

As I wrote previously, there will be a traffic tunnel from the existing Queens Wharf underground carpark to a spot just south of Dockside, thus avoiding the main north-south pedestrian promenade along the waterfront. But in the area between the tunnel and the hotel, "the proposed absence of road markings delineating vehicle areas from pedestrian areas is not considered satisfactory" (p40). This doesn't sound insurmountable, and indeed "with some further design and/or suitable evidence in relation to the layout of the wharf area between the hotel and the tunnel exit, these effects may be acceptable, subject to conditions". Those conditions include restricting servicing access to non-peak times, requiring coaches to unload by the Museum and that all light vehicles must use the tunnel.

B. The need to redesign and then carry out further wind tunnel testing of the southern end of the building to address pedestrian wind effects and the design of the building entrance.

In my previous analysis (based upon a quick reading of wind analyses in the application), I said that "in a couple of wind directions there will be a slight increase around a couple of corners, but the overall effect will be to create more shelter than Shed 1 does now". It turns out that the increases would be significant enough in certain conditions for them to be a worry. This report says that "the proposed development reduces wind speeds in all positions around the site, except for the southern end of the building where it causes increases during southerlies" (p39). These could be dangerous at times, and "the building requires modification to appropriately resolve this issue". The report suggests several possible modifications, including a combined setback and horizontal canopy at the southern end, which the writer says "will have some economic impacts for the developer, but I consider this is essential for mitigating the adverse effects". If the developer isn't willing to forgo a bit of profit to avoid such a public impact, then I'd agree that the proposal shouldn't go ahead.

C. The need for structural redesign of the proposal, such that continued berthing of large vessels on Queens Wharf is possible (without vibration impacts) in order to achieve consistency with the Wellington Waterfront Framework.

Most Wellingtonians would hate to lose the possibility of berthing large cruise ships and naval vessels here: it's a vital part of what makes the location unique. Without modification, though, the results of these ships banging against the wharf would be incompatible with a hotel. This is potentially the most significant of all the issues, and the applicants look like they've tried to avoid the problem by restricting the mooring of large vessels. However, the report suggests three structural remedies involving "mooring dolphins", fendering, piles and other great nautical terms, and recommends "the isolation of the hotel from the eastern (as well as southern) side of the wharf and additional strengthening of the eastern side of the wharf, adequate to enable continued berthing" (p31) as the most straightforward option. This sounds expensive, but again, if the developers won't bear the cost of this, ratepayers shouldn't either.

D. The need to redesign the service penetrations (pipes, exhausts and lift overrun) on the building to address urban design concerns.

This is an aesthetic issue, based upon advice from the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) that "Service penetrations proposed through the centre of the roof are unacceptable. They compromise treatment of the roof as the building's 'fifth elevation'. This is a significant issue because the site is overlooked by high-rise buildings. TAG recommends either that these penetrations be eliminated or that the location and design of roof top services be comprehensively reconsidered" (p3 of Appendix 5). That sounds fair enough, and I hope there's a way to resolve the problem architecturally.

E. The need for the proposed jetties and associated timber inserts to be deleted to achieve consistency with the Wellington Waterfront Framework.

This is actually the opposite of what the Capital Times and Dominion Post articles seemed to imply. The proposal added low-level jetties on the north and west sides of the wharf, intended to increase public space while allowing people to get closer to the water. But this is actually contrary to the Waterfront Framework because it "domesticates" the wharf by softening its hard industrial nature, requires cutting into the historic wharf, and prevents medium-sized vessels from mooring. The report thus calls for these to be removed from the proposal, and in fact the applicant ahs already indicated that they're happy with that change.

F. The need to reconsider the use of concrete paving and rails in certain parts of the public space design, as detailed in the TAG report.

This seems fairly minor and easy to modify. TAG thought that some of the details of the public space upgrades were "fussy" and inconsistent with both the wharf's history and the rest of the waterfront.

G. The need for adequate design details, materials and finishes (including a sample board) in respect of key building and public space details to be submitted upfront, to establish whether an iconic building will be achieved.

This was based upon the reasoning that since the building isn't going for a flashy "Bilbao effect" approach to being iconic, it will have to achieve it via being a high-quality, well-designed straightforward building in an iconic location. The report has decided that there's not enough detail in the application to determine the quality of the finishes and materials. In particular, they want more information on "details, materials and finishes associated with: decks, accessways, windscreens, rails, ramps and canopies ... the ground floor east façade and use of the adjacent promenade; and ... the prominent northern and southern end of the building, including the external stair towers" (p38). Without knowing more about that, they can't assess whether the result will be of a high enough quality, and thus can't say that it meets the framework's requirements.


Phew! That's quite a lot of objections, and there are also many strict conditions (Appendix 9) about acoustic insulation, construction management and vehicle access, which is exactly as it should be. But only points B and C are potential showstoppers, and if the developer is not willing to comply with those then we definitely should reject this proposal. But none of this quite adds up to the "slap" that the Capital Times describes it as, nor does it reject the concept of a hotel on the outer T. In fact, on page 28 of the District Planning report (Appendix 1) it says "I consider the concept of a hotel on this site is sound". I still have my own reservations about the design, and I still hope that a suitable alternative site for the indoor sports can be found, but when the much-delayed consent hearings start on Monday, it will be interesting to see what modifications the applicants come up with and whether they are enough to satisfy the regional council's concerns.


At 10:14 AM, June 29, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good, thoruough post Tom - thanks.

At 11:08 AM, June 29, 2006, Blogger Hadyn said...

What? So no visit from Paris?

At 11:08 AM, June 29, 2006, Blogger Hadyn said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2:44 PM, June 29, 2006, Blogger Jo Hubris said...

Hahaha Haydn, I was just about to comment "I wonder how many people oppose this development largely on the grounds that they don't want to risk Paris Hilton coming to Wellington for the opening". But I won't now.

At 2:54 PM, June 29, 2006, Blogger Hadyn said...

Paris Hilton jokes are much like the woman herself: easy.

So one has to be fast to get them in.

At 9:28 AM, June 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, based on your analysis, the developers will undertake these minor modifications, like remove (ie, not put in in the first place) low level jetties, resolve southerly wind issues (although lets face it, NO ONE goes for a casual stroll in a southerly and then Objects to being blown into a nice warm Hotel bar.... and then, Bob's your Uncle, and the Hilton is in town. (No, not Paris - hideous thought).

In other words, not only is it not a "slap" for the Hilton, but its standard Council / Developer argie - bargie and they're in like Flynn. Amazing how the papers can get it wrong really.


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